What Does it Mean: “To Be Made in His Image”?


I have some questions in regard to the article on page 32 under the heading, “The One Man—Changed in Nature,” in your booklet, “God’s Spiritual Creation.”

It says in the second paragraph, “Numerous passages of Scripture state that mortal man must be changed before he can be said to be in God’s image,” yet in 1 Corinthians 11:7 it says, “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, for as much as he is the image and glory of God.” These Scriptures (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3) all say that Jesus was in the image of God and He Himself told Philip in John 14:9, “He that has seen me has seen the Father,” indicating that He was indeed made in the image of God

In light of all these scriptures, isn’t it quite possible that you are misunderstanding the meaning of the word “image” as used in the scriptures in question? —J. F.


The Meaning of God’s Image

A survey of the word “image” in the New Testament reveals that all uses (except 1) of the word come from one Greek word eikon, meaning “a likeness, i.e., statue, profile, or (fig.) representation, resemblance:—image” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). The one exception is Hebrews 1:3, where the original Greek word translated image is “charakter,” and means “a graver (a tool or the person), i.e., (by impl.) engraving [‘character’], the figure stamped, i.e., an exact copy or [fig.] representation):—express image” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).

In other words, all uses of “image” in the New Testament are a statement of “resemblance” or “likeness,” with the exception of Heb. 1:3, where Jesus is said to be in the character-likeness of His Father.

A majority of the texts which use the word “image” speak of Jesus being in the image of God. If we think of this as either a “resemblance” or “representation” in a spiritual sense, the term is understandable in the context of Scripture, for Jesus was the Son of God.

But when He said of Himself, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), was He implying that He was at that time in God’s physical image and was therefore God’s equal?

Jesus did not speak His own words, they were words given Him from another, His Father. Jesus and His Father were in each other, not physically but in a relationship, Christ being submissive to the Father, speaking His Father’s words. “I do nothing of myself; but as my Father taught me, I speak these things.” He was not the Father, but was taught by Him. His works were not His own. He said, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:28–29). We see the same phraseology when He prayed that “they all may be one; as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21). No one would think for an instant that Christ meant that He, the Father and “they all” were one person. “They all” were those who believe through the words of Him and His Apostles, the same words which the Father gave Christ: “For I have given to them the words which you gave me; and they have received them” (John 17:8a). John 15 speaks of Christ’s followers abiding in Him if they bear fruit. Otherwise they cannot abide in Him (John 15:1-6).

Nor can we think of Christ and Paul as the same person when Paul said that he was called “To reveal his [God’s] Son in me [Paul]” (Gal. 1:16).

Man in God’s Image?

What about the three passages in the New Testament which speak of men in relation to the image of God? Two of these passages (Romans 1:23 and Romans 8:29) do not say that man is made in God’s image. Romans 1:23 speaks of the wicked who have “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man”—this assumes that the image of man is different from God’s, or the passage could not say that someone has changed the “glory of the incorruptible God” into “an image made like to corruptible man.” The corruptibility of man seems to be the root cause of the difference Paul is speaking about.

Among the definitions of the word image as used in Romans 1:23 is the following: “An image, figure, likeness; an image of the things (the heavenly things); used of the moral likeness of renewed men to God.” The thought of man being made in God’s (moral or spiritual) image by being changed in nature is included in this definition.

Romans 8:29 reveals another fact about being in God’s image which shows that the human race is presently not there. Paul says that God predestinated that we “be conformed to the image of his Son.” If we must “conform” to the image of God’s Son, we must make a change before we are in that image—which presupposes that we are not already made in that image. If a change is to be made, 1) the word “conform” suggests a change in character likeness, since we are not able to change our physical likeness. Other translations of the passage suggest this thought (those spoken of are to “become just like His Son”—SEB; to “be made like to the pattern” —Conybeare); “to share the likeness of His Son”—Berkeley).

Romans 8:30 confirms the thought. It says that God “predestinated…called…justified…glorified”—logical steps in the process of being conformed to Christ’s image physically (His immortal likeness). This process is a major subject in the chapter (see Rom. 8:17–25).

The only text remaining in question is 1 Cor. 11:7, which speaks of man being in the “image and glory of God.” What might this mean?

Man is the “Image and Glory of God?”

In First Corinthians 11, Paul the apostle is advising new converts to the faith to be particular about their manner of life. He appeals to them: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The Moffatt Bible translates this first verse: “Copy me, as I copy Christ.” The Berkeley Version translates, “Pattern after me, as I pattern after Christ.” These new converts needed detailed instructions, and Paul carefully outlined how they should conduct themselves as believers.

As we read further into the chapter we learn that these individuals shared the powers of the Holy Spirit, “praying” or “prophesying” with the gifts of the Holy Spirit which he discusses further in the chapters that follow (see 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14). Verse 3 of chapter 11 says that “The head of every man is Christ.” Can we think that Paul is saying that the “head” (ruling mind) of every man on earth is Christ? Is Christ the supreme director of all who live? We know this was not his thought or expectation.

What does Paul mean? He is speaking directly to and of believers who have accepted the authority of Christ. And might it not be realistic to say of these same believers, that just as each had taken Christ as their “head,” so in the same sense each “is the image and glory of God” (verse 7)—with a view to what they hope to become? Having been accepted into God’s “family,” they have opportunity to become like God in mind, in character, and eventually to be changed to the immortal state to be like Him physically. For this reason they are said to be “the image and glory of God.” The apostle John had this same progression in mind when he wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God”—we belong even before we are physically changed to be like Christ because we have been brought into His sphere of influence. As John goes on to explain: “…and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 NIV & KJV). In the same way we may be said to be in His image even before we have received the physical change—first it is a sharing of His knowledge, then His character, then the future physical change, based on one’s moral standing at Judgment.

Paul does not give any details in 1 Cor. 11:7. He does not say to what extent he thinks of man being “in the image” of God now. He may be saying in effect that if any are ready to follow Christ, they must become like Him in character, and the physical likeness will follow.

You also mention Colossians 3:10, where Paul, speaking again to believers, says that they have “put on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” What does it mean to be “renewed” in knowledge after God’s image? It is “to be changed into a new kind of life as opposed to the former corrupt state” (Strong’s Lexicon). This is the aspiration and calling of every believer, to be made into the likeness (first moral, then physical) of the Creator. The entire passage is symbolic, as Paul describes the change of heart which must occur in every believer. And in the new believer, both are future. Being “renewed in knowledge” must indicate a moral likeness, not physical (knowledge is not a physical entity).